Friday Night Lights

Football was fleeting for Heritage Hills fullback, but its lasting lessons are passed on

Posted on Sep 04 2018 in Features

Jon Goldsberry of Santa Claus played for Purdue University from 2001 to 2004. He split his time in fullback, special teams and linebacker positions. Photo by Tom Campbell.

By Richard G. Biever

The Friday night air everywhere this time of year carries the whistles and cheers of another football season kicking off. For every player along the sidelines whose dream of making it big in the NFL comes true, there are thousands and thousands whose dreams will remain behind on the high school or collegiate gridiron.

Then there are players like Jon Goldsberry.

A standout at Heritage Hills High School in Spencer County and a member of Purdue University Boilermaker teams that went to bowl games every year he was there, Goldsberry came ohhhh-so-close to fulfilling an NFL dream.

While he played in preseason games and suited up for the Buffalo Bills in 2005 and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2006, the six-foot-one-inch, 246-pound fullback never left the sidelines, never played a down, in a regular season game. In 2007, he signed with his third team, the Chicago Bears practice squad, but as injuries began taking a toll, he was released before the season began.

“When you love anything as much as I love football, of course it can be frustrating to watch rather than play,” Goldsberry said. “I have often told people I would have all of my surgeries over again tonight if it meant I could play again tomorrow.”

Statistically, his career may have been for naught, but on life’s higher playing field, Goldsberry sees a greater silver lining. “I do believe that everyone has their role in life, and God has a plan for everyone. That happened to be my role during that time in my life, and I did my best with no regrets. Unfortunately, due to several injuries and surgeries, I simply wasn’t good enough to start in the NFL, and I am OK with that. After being with three teams in three years and constantly scratching and clawing to make a team, I knew my time was limited from the beginning.”

Goldsberry, now 36, came back to southern Indiana. He is now a sales rep at Mulzer Crushed Stone in Tell City. His wife, Rachael, is the manager of member services  at Southern Indiana Power.

And just as his dad, a coach at Heritage Hills, passed the love of the game to him, Goldsberry is now passing that love of the game and its life lessons on to his own two children — son Jett, age 10, and daughter Gianna “Gigi,” age 7 — and other youth in the north Spencer area. Coincidentally, like his late father who once played college football with Phil Simms who went on to star in the NFL with the New York Giants, Goldsberry also played with quarterbacks Drew Brees at Purdue and Jay Cutler at Heritage Hills who also went on to star in the NFL.

“There are so many things I carry over to kids from my playing years,” Goldsberry said, “but the one thing I continue to relay from the late [Purdue Head Coach] Joe Tiller, is this: ‘Do what you’re supposed to do, when you’re supposed to do it, the way it’s supposed to be done, and do it that way every time.’”

Goldsberry is coaching in his son’s fifth and sixth grade tackle football program at the North Spencer School Corporation. In the past, he has also held summer camps at Heritage Hills where some of his former Purdue and NFL teammates assisted.

“There are a lot of BIG dreams out there in youth athletics today,” he said. “I would love to see them all play professionally and live out those dreams. Unfortunately, there aren’t as many athletes who will focus on the little things that will make the biggest difference. What an athlete does when no one is watching or making them do it, is what will make the biggest difference in the long run.”

While playing on Sundays before crowds of 60,000 may be an ultimate dream for many of those players suiting up for the season this month, here’s a bit of advice most all former high school athletes would impart to today’s high school players — and, really, for all youth: Cherish these days — now. Make memories, now. Youth is fleeting.

“Those days were fun,” recalled Goldsberry. “Football was still just a game at that point. Although I loved to play at each level, nothing compares to high school football and the camaraderie that comes along with playing on Friday nights.”

Richard G. Biever is senior editor of Electric Consumer.